Fundamentalism | Malise Ruthven

Summary of: Fundamentalism: A Very Short Introduction
By: Malise Ruthven


Welcome to the world of ‘Fundamentalism: A Very Short Introduction’ by Malise Ruthven. This book summary offers a concise exploration of the global phenomenon of fundamentalism and its effects on society, politics, and religious beliefs. From the rise of the Christian fundamentalist movement in the US to the various expressions of Islamic fundamentalism, this summary will delve into how these religious beliefs often focus on literal interpretation of texts and revolve around tradition. Discover the various ways fundamentalism has impacted global events, examine the dilemmas inherent in religious pluralism, and understand the relationship between fundamentalism and modernity.

Modern Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism is not only religious but also political and social. With the advent of globalization, the fundamentalist movements have emerged and challenged the traditionalist worldviews. Accommodating modernity, pluralism among fundamentalists has led to alliances between groups with differing agendas. However, the choice inherent in pluralism clashes with absolute belief- a fundamentalist tenet. With new versions replacing political fundamentalism in modern times, fundamentalism now encompasses activities beyond religion. While some movements recognize religious pluralism, it is mostly for political purposes.

Fundamentalism: A Way of Being

Fundamentalism began with Protestantism’s literal interpretation of the Bible and has evolved into a way of being for various religions. The term first referred to Islam in 1937 and was originally used as an anticolonial movement. Fundamentalists have a common tendency towards literalism and, often, a resistance to modernity. There is a fine line between traditionalists and fundamentalists, with the former being versed in their religion’s original thought and behavior, while the latter seeks separate identities, even in the face of a secular, modern world. The conflicts arising from fundamentalist intransigence are many and varied, ranging from the Arab-Israeli conflict to the Scopes Trial in Tennessee in 1925.

The Impact of Traditionalism on Women

Traditionalism poses significant challenges for women due to the strict control over their sexuality. Studies have shown that the cultural practice of controlling women’s sexuality is prevalent in both past and present societies. This includes beliefs in religious nationalism that inflate nationalist rhetoric by giving it a cosmic dimension. Traditional practices such as sati, the immolation of widows, dowry murders, and killing of female babies, persist even though they have been outlawed for centuries. These beliefs are anti-feminist and are still considered a way to achieve a higher spiritual rank. However, the role of sexual morality has a direct link to family values as argued in traditional religions. Consequently, women have tried to modify religion to gain more participatory rights in traditional religious practices. This assertion is shown in the emergence of feminist movements in various countries like Japan, Iran, Sri Lanka, among others. Although some women also actively participate in fundamentalist religious movements to preserve the traditional family due to economic necessity.

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